The first time ever I heard the name "B-Quartet" came out of the lips of Danny Loong (Timbre), who described the band as an interesting jazz-rock combo. He also highlighted that the band consisted of two sets of brothers who happened to be cousins as well. This is probably the notable trivia about the band. And certainly everything sounded... interesting.
Of course, there's nothing quite like listening to the band live and in June 2007, at the Rock the Substation gig, I finally got my chance (better late ...) and I've been enjoying B-Quartet since. So, now armed with a copy of their debut album (thanks, Willy), and having listened to the CD as much as humanly possible, here's the blow-by-blow account of Tomorrow Is Our Permanent Address.
When Mathematics Fails - The album opens with electronic noise setting up the rhythm for which the breezy acoustic guitar provides a steady introduction for the track's bouncy pace. Mathematics is an easing into the charms of B-Quartet. Nothing too intricate, almost a simple pop song (by B-Quartet's standard). The pleasing backing vocals on the coda is truly unique.
Shoebox - The coup de grace. Piano ballads normally suggest sentimental cheesiness, but with sound effects lurking behind singer Bani Haykal's heartfelt vocals and the wafting backing vox embellishing the spine-tingling chorus, the experience is like soaking in perfection. The band keeps the focus and discipline throughout, never weakening to temptation to dress Shoebox with a guitar solo or jarring changes, they just let the gorgeous melody work its magic. And magical it is...
Personal Space - This is where the album begins to stretch its wings and soar into experimental skies. Beginning with Haykal and a child-like keyboard riff before launching into an strident emo-tinged segment with screaming guitars and illuminating harmonies then finally settling into an outgoing disco-fied groove and ending on a discordant horn sample. Brilliant!
Disp rs - The Radiohead reference is most pronounced here, even though the track also contains the most conventional jazz guitar playing on the album, making Disp rs a heady trip into alt-jazz territory (think - Steely Dan). Haykal gives an impassioned vocal performance that recalls the late great Jeff Buckley.
Alphanumeric - Holds some affinity with When Mathematics Fails with its combination of electronic noise and acoustic guitar (the rhythm playing is awesome!), with dare I say, a stronger tune. But only up to the point when the band turns left with a jaunty showtune and then cuts loose by upping the ante on the previously meek and casual verse. Throw in a death metal guitar riff (Go!) and the disorientation is complete. Ambitious! I'd love to hear this on 98.7!!!
Stupid Luxury - Next to Shoebox, the jewel in the crown. A serpentine guitar line snakes around a start-stop beat and leads into a keening chorus that leaps from the speakers (or headphones - highly recommended) and then plunges into a feisty rock-out. Such control of space and timing is certainly rare as post-rock elements collide with jazz balladry to produce a special track that always keeps you guessing and never stays in the comfort zone. Outstanding.
Not An Ink Blot - The happy feel of this tune belies the dark undertones bubbling ("A little hiccup during lunch") with the counterpoint of the oddly nursery rhyme quality of the chorus. Perhaps the weakest track here, though.
Boutique - The band attacks this jumping song with gusto, right from the get-go. The chorus is atonal and a tad inaccessible but the band compensates with a beautiful classical guitar break which reminds me of classic prog rock (Genesis!). Not to mention - finally - twin guitar solos!!! Astounding shades of mood explored and exploited. No mean feat! "Morbidly fun!"
Kleptomania - With squalling guitar and pummeling drums, this track is the heaviest of the album. Yet, the band decides to mix the tone with a soothing choral line and then varying the intensity and melody of the guitar riff - and the pseudo-Arabic scatting by Haykal - wow! The song structure never keeps still long enough for you to get jaded.
Beautiful Crash - Another touching ballad - just Haykal and acoustic/classical guitars initially - with a chorus that brought tears to my eyes - awesome chord progression that takes the breath away. Of course, the band embarks on a high speed chase which breaks up the momentum somewhat but tastefully executed as always. It matters not, I'll take that sublime chorus home anytime. Sheer poetry in motion.
"Hidden Track (1)" - Track 11 aka Lullaby, as it's title suggests is a little gentle ditty perhaps the Bani boys hope will catch on amongst new parents. It's a sweet little track but a tad inconsequential, I'm afraid...
"Hidden Track" - Track 42 aka Fireplace, boys and girls! The band goes whole hog alt-rock with intense guitar riffing intro before teasing us with flamenco flourishes, a total breakdown of pace and Beach Boys harmonies (I kid you not, albeit lower key) that lead us gently out...
What more can I say? This album has got to be heard to be believed. I have previously expressed reservations about the commercial viability of such complex, intelligent music and I still believe that to a certain extent but if Radiohead, Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and Modest Mouse can conquer the mainstream planet then why not our very own B-Quartet?
Kudos to Bani Haykal, Bani Faizal, Bani Hidir and Bani Raizan, you have done the Singapore music scene proud!
Available at all good music stores, need I say "essential purchase"? Go now!
More info - here and there.